We know that the holidays are the perfect time to say thanks for everyone and everything we hold dear to our hearts. But it is a perfect opportunity for adults to teach their children about being grateful all year round.
Because if you are a gracious parent, then chances are you will raise gracious kids.
University of Dayton Associate Professor Alan Demmitt, of School Counseling and Human Services, said a theory about gratitude is that it might not be teachable but that it is learnable, and parents need to set an example of gratitude that their children will witness and emulate.
Expressing and fostering a sense of gratitude can be as simple as saying thank you for kind deeds, sharing what the best part of your day was or encouraging your kids to write and draw in their own gratitude journals. Or it can be as big as volunteering together as a family to help your community or school by donating to a food, toy or clothing drive.
Demmitt said that participating in an activity that fosters gratitude should be supplemented with a discussion of why you did it. That way kids get a better understanding and a moment to let the experience soak in.
There are many ways to inspire gratitude in children, especially when parents make it enjoyable, said Lisa Taylor Richey, creator of Manners To Go, a program that teaches children manners, and president and founder of the American Academy of Etiquette.
“Create a journal and have them list five things they are grateful for everyday, (for example, their friends, family, meals, sunshine),” Richey said. “Make thank-you note writing fun. Sit down over hot cocoa and cookies, take out colored pens, paper, glue and create thank-you notes. Thank-you notes should only be three-four sentences; this takes the pressure off writing them.”
Just like adults, kids like to be thanked, too.
“Tell them ‘thank you.’ when they do something for you. Make sure to make eye contact with them when saying thank you and be fully present,” Richey said.
Cynthia Roberts, school counselor in the Fayette County School Corporation in Indiana, said having a gratitude attitude is a part of positive psychology.
“Writing down three things each night that you are grateful for helps with depression,” Roberts said.
She also suggests that service learning activities are a great way to inspire gratitude. Roberts’ school used to participate in The League, a service learning organization that has now morphed into Generation On. Its website, at www.GenerationOn.org, “is a global youth service movement igniting the power of all kids to make their mark on the world. Its mission is to inspire, equip and mobilize youth to take action that changes the world and themselves through service.”
“We would have the teachers teach a lesson, and then do a service project about it. If you go to the Generation On.org website, they have lessons from Learning to Give. So, we had a canned food drive but did a lesson related to that prior to the drive,” Roberts said.
Little kids, who may not be able to tackle a service learning activity yet, can still learn about gratitude from their favorite characters. Reading books that celebrate gratitude and thankfulness together as a family can help your little ones with their thank-yous. For suggestions, talk to your local librarian or child’s teacher or check out one of these titles: “Bear Says Thanks” by Karma Wilson; “The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks” by Jan Berenstain and Mike Berenstain; “Thank You for Me!” by Marion Dane Bauer and “An Awesome Book of Thanks” by Dallas Clayton.
For more information on positive psychology, go online to www.authentichappiness.org.